Shannon Birchard was one win away from a national junior curling championship last year, and she’s earned herself another chance.
Birchard, along with her St. Vital Curling Club team of third Nicole Sigvaldason, second Sheyna Andries and lead Mariah Mondor, won the provincial junior women’s championship on Jan. 7 in Brandon.
The skip made a draw to the button with her final rock of the 10th end to score a 7-6 win over a pair of former teammates from last year’s championship rink, skip Selena Kaatz and second Kristen MacCuish.
"It was such a close game compared to last year," said Birchard, an 18-year-old Southdale resident. "There was so much pressure. It feels a little bit better, especially against such a great team."
Birchard said she was especially happy to help Sigvaldason, a West St. Paul resident, and Andries, who lives in Charleswood, earn their first trips to the nationals in their final year as juniors. Mondor, who lives in Island Lakes, curled with Birchard last season.
The team wasn’t playing its best heading into the event, but found its groove and posted a perfect 9-0 record. After a solid start to the season that included some bonspiel wins, the rink struggled to maintain its peak form as the provincials approached.
"I was nervous coming in," Birchard said. "It’s one of those mysteries of sports. Everyone was really focused, we put all of our energy into each game, and focused on each shot.
"I don’t have a full explanation for why we were able to play so solidly. But I’m glad we did."
Now the focus turns toward finding a new peak in Fort McMurray, Alta., where the national championship will be held from Feb. 2 to 10.
If Birchard learned anything in last year’s event — where her team went 10-2 in the round robin before losing to Alberta in the final — it was the value of preparation.
"One of the main things is to be absolutely fully prepared for every game," said the first-year science student at the University of Winnipeg. "Every team at nationals has won their province to get there and they’re all going to give you a tough game."
The ice conditions are different in an arena setting, giving a huge advantage to the team that can adjust their ice-reading and weight control the quickest.
The Manitoba junior representatives were nearly an all-Birchard entry. Shannon’s older brother, Daniel, lost the junior men’s final in 12 ends to Matt Dunstone, making the day a little bittersweet for his sister.
"It was heartbreaking to see them lose," Birchard said of her brother’s team. "They’ve put everything into these past seven years and I thought this was their year, but it didn’t work out.
"I know he’s going to be supporting me the entire way."